In this blog on the making of national movement, let us learn how nationalism emerged in India. It was soon realized among people that the British were exercising control over the resources of India and the lives of its people and until this control was ended India could not be for Indians. This consciousness began to be clearly stated by the political associations formed after 1850, especially those that came into being in the 1870s and 1880s.
Most of these were led by English-educated professionals such as lawyers. The more important ones were the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, the Indian Association, the Madras Mahajan Sabha, the Bombay Presidency Association, and of course the Indian National Congress.
Though many of these associations functioned in specific parts of the country, their goals were stated as the goals of all the people of India, not those of anyone’s region, community, or class. The dissatisfaction with British rule intensified in the 1870s and 1880s. The Arms Act was passed in 1878, disallowing Indians from possessing arms.
The Making Of National Movement: Vernacular Press Act
In the same year, the Vernacular Press Act was also enacted in an effort to silence those who were critical of the government. The Act allowed the government to confiscate the assets of newspapers including their printing presses if the newspapers published anything that was found “objectionable”. In 1883, there was a furor over the attempt by the government to introduce the Ilbert Bill.
The bill provided for the trial of British or European persons by Indians, and sought equality between British and Indian judges in the country. But when white opposition forced the government to withdraw the bill, Indians were enraged. The event highlighted the racial attitudes of the British in India
The need for an all-India organization of educated Indians had been felt since 1880, but the Ilbert Bill controversy deepened this desire. The Indian National Congress was established when 72 delegates from all over the country met at Bombay in December 1885. The early leadership – Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, Badruddin Tyabji, W.C. Bonnerji, Surendranath Banerji, Romesh Chandra Dutt, S. SubramaniaIyer, among others – was largely from Bombay and Calcutta.
Naoroji, a businessman and publicist settled in London, and for a time member of the British Parliament, guided the younger nationalists. A retired British official, A.O. Hume, also played a part in bringing Indians from the various regions together.
The Making Of National Movement: A nation in the making
It has often been said that Congress in the first twenty years was “moderate” in its objectives and methods. During this period it demanded a greater voice for Indians in the government and in administration. It wanted the Legislative Councils to be made more representative, given more power and introduced in provinces where none existed.
It demanded that Indians be placed in high positions in the government. For this purpose, it called for civil service examinations to be held in India as well, not just in London. The demand for Indianisation of the administration was part of a movement against racism since most important jobs at the time were monopolized by white officials, and the British generally assumed that Indians could not be given positions of responsibility.
Other demands included the separation of the judiciary from the executive, the repeal of the Arms Act, and the freedom of speech and expression. The early Congress also raised a number of economic issues. It declared that British rule had led to poverty and famines: an increase in the land revenue had impoverished peasants and zamindars, and exports of grains to Europe had created food shortages.
Congress demanded a reduction of revenue, a cut in military expenditure, and more funds for irrigation. It passed many resolutions on the salt tax, treatment of Indian laborers abroad, and the sufferings of forest dwellers – caused by an interfering forest administration.
All this shows that despite being a body of the educated elite, Congress did not talk only on behalf of professional groups, zamindars, or industrialists. The Moderate leaders wanted to develop public awareness about the unjust nature of British rule. They published newspapers wrote articles and showed how British rule was leading to the economic ruin of the country.
They criticized British rule in their speeches and sent representatives to different parts of the country to mobilize public opinion. They felt that the British had respect for the ideals of freedom and justice, and so they would accept the just demands of Indians.